Anime Festival Wichita will be full of people who love Japanese animation but probably none more so than Brooke Stephenson.
After studying at the Savannah (Ga.) College of Arts and Design for two years, the Tulsa native relocated to Japan to pursue the art form.
“I was like, ‘They’re not giving me what I need,’” she said. “I’ll just go over to Japan.”
Stephenson, who still lives in Japan and makes her living in anime, will be one of the featured guests at this weekend’s festival. But don’t look for her under that name: professionally, she goes by Ogawa Burukku. Ogawa is a translation of her first name – a small stream – and Burukku is how Brooke is pronounced in Japanese.
“So my pen name is basically Brooke Brooke,” Stephenson said.
The 11th annual festival, which will take place at the Hyatt Regency, will also feature panel and autograph sessions with voice actors active in anime production, nonstop anime video and gaming rooms, cosplay fashion shows and skits, an anime music video contest, vendors and more. For a complete schedule, visit afwcon.org.
The story of Stephenson’s interest in anime sounds like that of many fans.
“It wasn’t really a big thing when I was a kid,” she said. “I read my first Japanese comic at 14. I didn’t know you could do it in black and white, I didn’t know you could have female lead characters. It just kind of blew my mind. My mind was made up (to pursue anime) before I realized that’s what I wanted to do.”
Stephenson said she’s done “pretty much everything under the sun” in anime and manga, as Japanese comics are known, from storyboarding to animation to translating. In 2012 she launched her own webcomic series, called “FaLLEN,” which is described as a “magical girls series rated teen plus.”
“I was just like, ‘I’m going to try to do this on my own.’ The feedback I’m getting is amazing. When you’re working for a publisher, you don’t get to interact with readers.”
But being her own boss also means working harder, she said. She turned to Kickstarter to raise money for the effort. “I asked for $3,000 and got $8,000,” she said.
Since then, she said, “I’ve hit rock bottom before and kind of been pulled out by my readers. I’ve got readers all over the world. I’ve got a guy in Sweden, sometimes he sends a donation.”
Stephenson, 31, said her main characters are all female, something she was lacking when growing up.
“When I was a kid, I was a tomboy. There were no tomboy roles for me,” she said.
She’s on an anime festival tour with stops in Chicago, Tulsa and two other locations in addition to Wichita. She’ll be selling autographed copies of a print version of her comic and participating in several panel discussions.
“I just finished Chicago,” she said. “That went really well. I had people who bought the book and said they couldn’t put it down.”
She’ll find plenty of kindred spirits in Wichita, where the festival has grown from about 900 participants its first year to 4,000 last year.
“I fell in love with anime when I was a young girl,” said Mickie Grantz, who’s 30 and works in tech support. “It’s kind of a longtime love. I don’t watch the current stuff, but I definitely appreciate the art form.”
Like many attendees, Grantz dresses up as characters from favorite video games, television shows and movies.
“I don’t hold myself back when it comes to gender either,” she said. “My father never told me to stop playing.”
Grantz has been a panel presenter herself on the subject of making costumes on a budget. She says she’s amassed a closet full of costumes for less than $100. She enjoys seeing the outfits that other anime fans come up with as well.
“I really enjoy meeting other people who have similar likes. Sometimes that’s kind of difficult in modern society. It’s not always easy to pick out the people who are into the same things you are.”
If you go
Anime Festival Wichita
When: 4 p.m.-midnight Friday, 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; the non-stop anime viewing room starts at 5 p.m. Friday and runs around the clock until 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Hyatt Regency Wichita, 400 W. Waterman
Tickets: Day passes $12-$20, weekend pass $40